Do statin dangers outweigh benefits?

by Patrick Holford

Patrick Holford is a pioneer in new approaches to health and nutrition, specialising in the field of mental health. He is widely regarded as Britain’s best-selling author and leading spokesman on nutrition and mental health issues, hence being frequently quoted in national newspapers from the Daily Mail to the Guardian. Patrick is also popular on radio shows and national television as a presenter, interviewer and guest.

Statins are currently taken by 4 million people in Britain but family doctors are being financially incentivised to prescribe them to a further 1.4 million. One government advisor has claimed that they should be offered to all men over age 50 and women over age 60. This would result in a third of the population on medication with dubious benefits with as many as 2 million people suffering side-effects! Has the world gone mad? While there is evidence that statins, taken by men who have had heart attacks, does slightly reduce risk of cardiovascular death, the evidence for women is far more flimsy. The evidence of statins reducing mortality from any cause or cardiovascular disease is not existent. A meta-analysis involving 42,800 people found no difference in mortality or cardiovascular mortality between those on statins and those of placebos. There was a 1.7% reduced risk of a non-fatal coronary event in those of statins taken over an average of 4.3 years. That equates to one in sixty people having a minor benefit, compared to one in ten having side-effects.

The muscle pain and abnormal heart rhythm induced by statins is thought to be caused by the drug blocked the production of co-enzyme Q10, a nutrient vital for heart function. 71% of healthy people, according to one study, have heart rhythm abnormalities when given statins, but most resolve if given at least 90mg of C0-Enzyme Q10 a day.

Given the concerns with side-effects are statins really the best way to reduce cardiovascular risk? If the goal is to lower cholesterol they certainly are not the most effective treatment. Niacin (vitamin B3) in doses of 1,000mg to 2,000mg a day is more effective and also lowers cardiovascular risk. Niacin, however, has the side-effect of causing blushing at high doses, which can induce digestive discomfort. However, non-blushing forms or sustained release forms of niacin are available, both on prescription and in health food shops. The most effective way to lower cholesterol, and raise HDL, is a low glycemic load (GL) diet.

Cholesterol is, however, a poor predictor of cardiovascular risk. In fact, if you have a heart attack the odds are you don't have high cholesterol. A massive US survey of 136,905 patients found that 75% of those hospitalised for a heart attack had perfectly normal cholesterol levels and almost half had optimal cholesterol levels. Among elderly people cholesterol is a very poor predictor of cardiovascular disease death, as was a widely used index of conventional risk factors called the Framingham risk score, based on assessments of blood pressure, cholesterol, ECG, diabetes and smoking. The best predictor by far is your homocysteine level. If a person's homocysteine level was above 13, it predicted no less than two thirds of all deaths five years on, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.

Supplementing omega-3 fats are more effective in reducing risk of cardiovascular death than statins in those with heart failure. In one study published in the Lancet on heart failure patients statins and placebos failed to reduce risk of cardiovascular death or hospitalisation, while omega 3 fish oil supplements reduced both.

Magnesium is highly effective in lowering cardiovascular risk, and high blood pressure, in doses of 300mg a day, as proven in numerous studies by Burton Altura in the '90s.

Homocysteine lowering B vitamins are highly effective in reducing risk of stroke, according to a Lancet meta-analysis of studies. Their risk for reducing risk of heart attack is not yet known as no study, remarkably, has looked effectively at the impact of an effective combination of homocysteine-lowering nutrients in those with high homocysteine levels, eg above 15 Mmol. An effective combination should not only include high doses of folic acid, B12, B6, but also zinc and TMG (tri-methyl glycine) both because the body can lower homocysteine in two ways, one requiring the B vitamins, the other requiring zinc and TMG. but also because methyl groups, provided by TMG (and also eggs rich in phosphatidyl choline) are vital for homocysteine lowering.

If one wants a pill to lower cardiovascular risk the combination of homocysteine lowering nutrients, magnesium, omega 3 fats and niacin seems a vastly more intelligent way forward. There are side-effects - reduced risk for diabetes, dementia, depression and joint pain to name a few. However, combined with a low GL diet, eating more oily fish, more beans and greens high in B vitamins and magnesium, the positive impact of statins pales into insignificance, even putting aside the risk of side-effects. Should the Government continue to pour £millions of tax payers money into an ill-thought through strategy to lower cardiovascular risk? Wouldn't that money be better spent tackling the true cause of heart disease - sub-optimum nutrition? A bit of money to educate doctors in the optimum nutrition approach to disease reversal wouldn't go amiss.

If you'd like to find out more about non-drug approaches to heart disease read Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs or my Special Report entitled 'High Cholesterol' explaining how to lower it naturally.

See also Patrick Holford's home page - click here.

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